The 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend showed two of the Winnipeg Jets’ top players, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, at their best. Both players took part in the skills competition, pitched in during the Central Division’s games and generally looked like the superstars they are.
For a team as deep as the Jets, however, the potential contributions to All-Star Weekend go far beyond their two leading scorers. The Jets are blessed with a depth of talent that has propelled them to the top of the Central and could have stolen the show in San Jose. Scheifele and Wheeler represented the Jets with skill and class, so this is by no means making the point they shouldn’t have gone. They are clearly the Jets’ two best players. Given the format of the weekend, however, other Jets players easily could’ve dominated the event.
Scheifele, Wheeler and even Jets head coach Paul Maurice all showed well during the festivities. For a three-on-three event designed around speed, skill and a sense of fun, and a skills competition designed to challenge even the NHL’s finest, here are three more Jets who could have taken part and would likely have owned the weekend.
Ehlers would likely have been many fans’ first guess for a list like this. You can’t talk about skill and the Jets without bringing up arguably their most electrifying player. He lacks the consistency to produce points the way Wheeler and Scheifele do, but a weekend when players switch jerseys in the middle of an event, among other things, is not designed around consistency. It’s designed around entertainment.
Entertainment is Ehlers’s bread and butter. One of few players who accelerate when they get the puck, he has the flat-out speed to rival even Connor McDavid. He would be a fixture of the fastest skater contest.
Nikolaj Ehlers completed his fastest skater lap in 13.25 seconds yesterday at Bell MTS Place. Comparing that to the event at the All-Star game puts his time 4th best (since 1992) behind Drouin (13.103), Larkin (13.172) and Hagelin (13.218). #hefast #NHLJets
— Dave Minuk (@ICdave) January 3, 2019
As for the game itself, anyone with Ehlers’s creativity would bring fans out of their seats during a three-on-three event where, let’s be honest, defense takes a backseat to puck-handling shenanigans. This is the player who, more than once, has switched hands in the middle of a stride to avoid a stick check.
You could even make a case for him to be a dark horse for the hardest shot competition. He’d be one of the smaller players to take part no doubt, but those who’ve seen him wind up for a shot will tell you he has an absolute missile. Just don’t ask him to dominate the breakaway contest.
All-Star Weekend is all about fun for the fans, and the most fun Jet on many a night is Ehlers. Give him a little extra space to gallop, and a defense a little less interested in shutting him down, and he would drop a few jaws.
Both accuracy and hardest shots are no-brainers for Laine, with his lightning-quick release and pinpoint, surgical accuracy. He was very close to getting into this season’s event and probably would have made an indelible mark on it.
Laine’s personality is tailor-made for a showcase like this. He’s proven that, despite being quiet at times, he has a wicked sense of humor and is ready with a quip or quotable in many an interview. Sometimes he’s even pushed that envelope out a little farther than most players his age would dare.
Laine’s mix of skill and personality is a marketer’s dream. As the NHL tries to grow itself in new areas and attract people to an ever-growing fanbase, players like Laine are the kind they should be pushing at every opportunity. And when the time comes for him to face the other side of that fame, dealing with the fans, he shines. Ask any of the kids who have approached him for an autograph, asked for a picture or stood by the glass waiting for a thrown puck. He handles the fans with class.
The skill and fun-loving nature of Laine make him the perfect player for All-Star Weekend. Don’t fret about him not getting there this season, however. The future 50-goal scorer will have more than his share of appearances by the end of his career.
A player who’s already represented the Jets on several occasions, Byfuglien is getting a little longer in the tooth than when he first went to the All-Star Game in 2011. Nonetheless, he’s still a huge part of the Jets’ success and perfect All-Star material. But for a pair of injuries, he could easily have been among the Jets representatives this season. His .91 points-per-game average puts him seventh among all NHL defensemen, and five of the top-six made the 2019 event.
There’s not much doubt which skills competition event he would take part in. He’s been a long-time holder of the Jets’ hardest shot and has taken part in that event at every previous All-Star Game he’s played in.
— Dave Minuk (@ICdave) February 15, 2018
Though last season’s mark of 98.3 miles per hour was one of the lowest marks of Byfuglien’s career, it wouldn’t have been out of place at this season’s event. In fact, it would’ve beaten both of Steven Stamkos’ attempts. Byfuglien has broken 100 MPH several times before. His passing and puck-handling skills are not to be underestimated either, making him a good fit for numerous other events. As for the game itself, his sense of showmanship is often underrated and would earn appreciation from fans.
For a team like the Jets, there will almost never be enough room at the All-Star event for all the players who deserve to go. We haven’t even mentioned Kyle Connor yet, and he seems likely to earn an eventual nod for the event. The right players went to the event, of that there’s no doubt. Wheeler and Scheifele have taken the Jets on their backs at times this season, especially through the recent injuries, and they lead the team in scoring for a reason.
Still, it’s comforting for Jets fans to think they could have sent numerous players to San Jose this past weekend. Three players, in particular, could have stolen the show there. But, to be fair to the rest of the NHL, the Jets sent just two. This time.